As a firm believer that reading helps me become a better writer, I’ve decided to track some of the books I read over the course of a week. I’m not going to set any specific reading goals because, as those Nationwide commercials say, life comes at you fast.
This week I ended up reading two books that have similar subject matter: tabletop RPGs! I have played a few in my time and always enjoyed it, though sometimes I don’t feel I have the patience to do them long term. That and I tend to want to spend too long creating my character and pouring over all of the details. But my nerdy heart definitely enjoyed that they were an important detail in these two books!
Please note that these reviews will feature some spoiler-y aspects of these stories, though I promise not to give away any major plot twists!
Roll For Initiative by Alex Silver
Roll For Initiative is a novella focusing on video game designer Gui and his friends, who are all avid tabletop RPG fans. His new roommate Paz works at the local coffee shop and is responsible for delectable and indulgent baked goods popular among Gui’s group of friends. However, Paz is initially icy and pedantic about the space that he and Gui share. He takes to leaving his complaints on sticky notes for Gui to find the morning after, as their work schedules are opposite one another. This combined with Gui’s late hours as he slogs through a pre-release crunch for his work’s new release, Day Dreamer, leaves Gui feeling equal parts frustrated and exhausted, enough for him to confront Paz, where their tension boils over into some much-needed stress-relief.
First off, can I just say how relatable the whole roommate situation is? They’re such a necessary evil that almost everyone has had to deal with. I feel like the tension between Gui and Paz was nailed perfectly, especially when it comes to a steamy head. I’m kind of a sucker for frustration sex, and Paz gets Gui riled up in all the best ways that leads to some pretty hot encounters.
I also love books where we get to see some intimate details of a character’s hobby or passion. For this story, it’s Paz’s baking. As someone who enjoys baking myself, I absolutely loved all the descriptions of baked goods that Paz creates (especially because CHOCOLATE). Baking is a special kind of love language on its own, and Gui is precious in the way he adores and inhales Paz’s confections.
Coincidentally, I’ve read a few criticisms of romance stories lately where readers DNF based on miscommunication between the main characters. What I enjoy about Gui and Paz’s story is that eventually they do break down their walls and talk things out, and only then do they allow their feelings for one another to grow.
Roll for Initiative is the first book in the Table Topped series. The series is set to follow others in Gui’s friend group, and I think Roll for Initiative does a fantastic job at introducing these characters. I definitely want to know more about them, especially Theo, who is trans, and Jude, Gui’s younger brother who also aspires to work in video game design. Theo and Jude are featured in the book of the Table Topped series, Charisma Check, which releases on January 18th, 2021.
“The last thing I need is another scramble to find new housing because my dick thinks it has good ideas. It doesn’t.”
“This week I’ve learned there is a correct way to align the boxes in the pantry, hand the toilet paper roll, put away the cutlery, and just about everything else. A correct way that differs from the way I’ve always done it. Not that I’m bitter about it.”
Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak
Natural Twenty is the story of Leo, a florist who loves flowers to the extent that they cover his body as the subject of his tattoos. He runs Wild Things, a florist shop in the city of Lincoln, and outside of work his only obligation is to his needy Staffordshire terrier, Angie. On his way to work one morning, Leo notices a new storefront opening down the street from his flower shop, a bookstore called The Lost World. Intrigued by a clever sign and some LGTBQ+ friendly decor, Leo makes a point to stop in, where he meets Jay, the bespectacled curly-haired owner, who he is immediately smitten with. Soon Leo is invited to The Lost World’s game nights, where he plays D&D with Jay and Edward, Jay’s gloriously fashionable best friend. As Leo and Jay grow closer, bonding over books and a trashy 80’s cop show, they both learn how to open up to one another.
I don’t even know where to start with this book. A tall, hunky florist with sleeves of tattoos? An adorable rambling bookstore owner with an amazing back piece with pierced nipples? Leo and Jay are both such wonderful characters and the love that blossoms between them is stunning. I also loved Edward and the many references to Castlevania that came along with describing his eccentric style and cosplay persona.
I loved how the use of flowers and their meanings gave a time honored tradition a new spin. Whether the author already had this knowledge or did their research, it absolutely worked for me. I enjoyed pausing the story and looking up what certain flowers looked like, as I hadn’t heard of a lot of the varieties mentioned. The chapter subtitles that mentioned a type of flower and its meaning were a lovely touch.
The steam in this book is extremely hot and contains some of my favorite tropes: height difference, titillating dirty talk, partners switching up their roles in bed. And it’s perfectly counterbalanced by gorgeous, romantic prose that never felt contrived or corny.
I also enjoy walking away from a romance book with a message, no matter how simple. One of the main conflict resolutions in Natural Twenty is asking for help from those you love, and it’s one that resonates with me personally. It’s tough, and it takes a lot of vulnerability to rest your burdens on others. I think it was handled with grace in Leo and Jay’s story.
Oddly enough (because there are only so many D&D puns) the second book in the Roll for Love series is also called Charisma Check and comes out January 19th, 2021. It focuses on Edward, the elegant and eccentric best friend of Jay, and his cosplay arch nemesis, The Masked Gentleman.
“You can’t trip and fall into somebody’s ass.”
“So why, hours later when I was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, could I feel nothing but a heavy weight on my chest and a sinking feeling of loneliness?”